Police training gave Maureen life skills

By Lin Ferguson

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SETTLED: Maureen at home in Hunterville, where she has lived for 44 years.
SETTLED: Maureen at home in Hunterville, where she has lived for 44 years.

Hunterville woman Maureen Fenton joined the New Zealand Police in 1957 after seeing an advertisement in the NZ Woman's Weekly encouraging young women to sign up.

"You didn't just sign up. You had to apply first then go to an interview and hope they accepted you."

Having grown up in a rural area all her life in Bainesse outside Palmerston North, to even go to Wellington for her interview was a major ask, she said.

Then when she was accepted with seven other women and they were sent to the Trentham Army Barracks for three months' training.

"It was very primitive, nothing luxurious I can tell you that."

She was the 155th New Zealand police woman sworn in and was immediately placed in central Auckland.

Today at 87 Maureen has lived in Hunterville for 44 years and said every day has counted living in the small town.

Her time from 1957 in Auckland as woman police officer taught her valuable life skills, she said.

"I would urge any young woman wanting to join up to go right ahead. It's a marvellous career."

But in saying that Maureen said those early days were vastly different to now.

"There really wasn't the crime, not the violence and certainly not the murders like there is now.

"Domestic family violence wasn't dealt with by police in those days ... you never heard of it. Drugs were unheard of and the pubs closed at 6pm."

When she joined the force she was given her uniform, a notebook, a pair of handcuffs and a baton.

"And our batons were smaller than the men's batons. It really was quite obvious in those days that we weren't wanted by the male officers. I think it was because they thought they had to look after us."

And to a degree that was true because the women were not allowed to drive police cars and always had to have a male on patrol with them.

"If you were off to a speaking job like talking to a Country Women's Institute you either had to get someone to drive you or get a bus or a train to where it was."

There were many foot patrol duties in Queen St, public parks and annual fairs and shows like the Winter Show, she said.

"We looked after lost children and elderly people."

Maureen remembers she was selected as one of the security police to look after prima ballerina Dame Margot Fonteyn when she toured New Zealand in the early 1960s.

"I have told young people, but most don't know who Margot Fonteyn was."

One of the skills she treasures from police training was the art of public speaking.

"It has helped me so much throughout my life and stood me in real good stead."

During her years in Hunterville Maureen was a district councillor on the Rangitikei District Council for nine years representing the Hunterville Ward.

And for many years after that she worked on the Hunterville Community Committee, she said.

"I've always been a community-minded person.

"I like to be busy and help my community. Staying busy is good for you. It keeps you young."

She was the president of the Hunterville RSA for six years and a life member of the Hunterville Swimming Club and the Hunterville Bowling Club.

With just over 500 people in Hunterville and 1500 in the wider Hunterville region, you soon get to know everyone, she said.

When she married fellow police constable Bob Fenton in 1964 she had to let her career go.

"Well in those days if you got married you had to leave."

These days living quietly in Hunterville with flowers around the door (pot plants spilling over while flowers line the verandah), Maureen is looking forward to a Wine and Cheese evening to celebrate the 75th Anniversary of women of the New Zealand Police past and present.

It is at Manawatu Golf Club on July 26.

"I will enjoy that very much."

- Wanganui Chronicle

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